Wilford Hill Lecheminant provides biographical detials of William Harney.

Academic / Technical Report
Wilford Hill Lecheminant

Wilford Hill Lecheminant, "A Crisis Averted? General Harney and the Change in Command of the Utah Expedition," Utah Historical Quarterly 51, no. 1 (1983): 30–45

Utah Historical Quarterly
Wilford Hill Lecheminant
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IN MAY 1857 THE UNITED STATES ARMY assigned the command of its Utah Expedition to Gen. William Selby Harney who promptly announced that to solve the Utah problem "he would capture Brigham Young and the twelve apostles and execute them in a summary manner and winter in the temple of the Latter-day Saints." He was well known as a tough and experienced Indian fighter. Two years earlier the public had labeled him "squaw killer" after his regiment massacred a village of Sioux Indians near Ash Hollow. This dubious exploit was one of many controversial incidents in Harney's long military career. His proponents defended him as an exemplary soldier with a flare for gallantry, while to his enemies he was an impulsive officer with an inclination for provoking disputes. Such was the reputation of Harney, the man who briefly held the Utah command twice yet never saw Utah as a military authority. On August 29,1857, his Utah command was given to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston and the expedition became known as Johnston's Army. Then for a few weeks the next spring Harney held the command of the newly formed Department of Utah and was over Johnston. He was two weeks en route to Utah when the government learned peace had been established with the Mormons and reassigned Harney to Oregon.

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The Ash Hollow massacre in which General Harney acquired the derisive name "squaw killer" was an important battle in the early stages of the Sioux Wars. These wars, a series of battles between the Plains Indians and the army, included George A. Custer's defeat at the Little Bighorn and lasted until the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890. It all started in August 1854 when 1,500 Sioux and Cheyenne Indians were peacefully camped a few miles southeast of Fort Laramie alongside the Oregon Trail. They were awaiting annual gifts from the government as established by the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851, a treaty designed to maintain peace among the Indians and to protect emigrant traffic from Indian depredations.

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Harney followed the Platte River and arrived at Ash Hollow September 2, 1855. Little Thunder and his band of Brule Sioux had ignored Twiss's warning and were camped six miles north of the Platte on Blue Water Creek. At 2:00 A.M. the next morning the troops were awakened. Harney's instructions were heavily laced with profanity. At 3:00 A.M. Col. Philip St. George Cooke led four mounted dragoon companies to positions behind the village. At 4:30 Harney moved five companies of infantry up the creek. The Indians struck camp and began to move out. Little Thunder appeared with a white flag and pled for his people, proclaiming his friendship for the whites. . . . Harney's report tallied 86 Indians killed, 5 wounded, and about 70 women and children captured. Harney's casualties were 4 killed, 4 severely wounded, 3 slightly wounded, and 1 missing. Items from the Gratiot Post and from a murdered mail party were found with the Indians. Later, at Fort Laramie, Harney received Sioux chiefs, who where under the protection of Twiss, and sternly demanded that their only hope for peace was to surrender the murderers of the mail party, return stolen property, and stop their depredations. Two incriminated braves surrendered and were taken to Fort Leavenworth to be hanged but were later pardoned.

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